Lessons Learned From My First Garden

garden 014 (Medium)Now that my first ever garden is done for the year, all except for the 5 or 6 carrot tops poking up, it’s time for me to reflect on all of the things I’ve learned.

1. Test your soil. I didn’t do this. I should have. I even got a nice little box to put a soil sample in to mail to my local Department of Agriculture for a free testing. Dumb me. They would have been able to tell me exactly what my soil is lacking, so that I would have known how to properly amend it and I could have given my plants the nutrients they needed. Next year I will definitely do this.

2. Feed your soil. You must fertilize! Just sticking a seed in the ground, watering it, and hoping it will grow doesn’t work. Believe me. Lesson learned.

3. Don’t leave a grass border inside the garden. I thought it would be a good idea to leave a nice edging of grass along the perimeter of the garden, for me to walk along. Not a good idea. The grass “path” was too narrow for me to have mowed without hacking at my crops, so it grew nice and tall and just looked like weeds everywhere. Plus, it spread into the garden.

4. Plant flowers. I always wondered why people planted flowers in and around their gardens. I assumed it was just to make it look nice and colorful. But I’ve realized that those flowers actually serve a purpose… to attract bees! You need bees to pollinate your plants, or else you won’t get much fruit at all. Aha! Now I get it! Plus, some flowers are good companion plants, meaning that they will give nutrients into the soil that other crops will benefit from, or even help to keep nasty bugs away.

5. Invite the birds. I’ve also noticed that many people have bird houses near their gardens. Again, I thought it was just for fun. But birds can be very helpful to gardeners, as they will enjoy eating nasty pests from your plants. Next year I’d like to have a bird house in a corner of my garden.

6. Water at the right time. I never knew that you couldn’t water your garden at any ol’ time of the day. You should only water early in the morning, or later in the evening, at times when it’s cool outside. If you water in the heat of the sun it will scorch your plants.

7. Don’t use fresh manure. You  need to let your manure sit for like 6 months to a year before you put it in the garden.

8. Plant Cover Crops. When you are finished using your garden for the year, plant a cover crop. Plants like Crimson Clover, Hairy Vetch, and Rye add nutrients back into the soil.

9. Be careful thinning and transplanting. Before you go pulling up seedlings in order to transplant, wait until they are a good size. If you pull them up before they are a fair size, they will only shrivel up before your eyes when you try to replant them.

10. Leggy seedlings need more light.

11. Use some sort of pest control. Otherwise, all of your hard work will only benefit the bugs.

12. Good fencing. If you have critters in your backyard, make sure you put up a good fence around your garden. Pay close attention to the bottom of your fence, making sure animals can’t push under it.

13. Don’t pick your watermelons too soon!!

14. Root crops really need loose soil. They truly won’t grow in a hard ground.

15. When it comes to potatoes: row planting is better than planting in holes. You may recall that when I planted potatoes this year, I experimented with two methods: row planting, and deep hole planting. Only one out of ten holes actually produced anything.

The problem that I realized was that every time it would rain, the holes would fill up. I think the potatoes just rotted. At least the mounds produced something, though not much at all. I know my mistake was that I didn’t mound them enough. I think I’ll try growing potatoes in a trash can next year!

16. Blossom-End Rot on Tomatoes can be avoided by crushing eggshells and sprinkling them in the soil around the plants.

17. Plant lettuce in cool weather.

So, lots of lessons learned… the hard way. But, when you learn like that, you never forget!

I’ve decided not to plant a fall crop. I’m going to work on amending the soil for Spring. I’m excited about next year’s garden. I just know it will be better, especially since I won’t be making so many crucial mistakes!

So, what about you? Have any tips to share with us new gardeners that will spare us from having to learn another lesson the hard way?!

9 thoughts on “Lessons Learned From My First Garden”

  1. I cannot believe how valuable this blog is, holy cow! I’m just trying to soak everything in so that when I start my homestead, I don’t fail TOO much. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  2. This was our first year in planting corn so we didn’t know that we needed to pick the corn right away. We planted our bell pepper plants to close to our jalapeno plants and they crossed pollinated so our bell peppers were a little hot. Our potato seeds did much better in our own clay like dirt with added rabbit and chicken manure than they did in a raised bed with peat moss…go figure.

    I’m going to try the egg shells around the tomato plants this spring to see if there is a difference.

    We had to put a fence up around our strawberry raised bed because we found a squirrel eating our berries. The squirrel was taste testing them to see if they were ripe and he would drop the ones that were not ripe on the ground.

    Next season I can not procrastinate on picking the blueberries because literally over night we had not a single ripe blueberry left on 12 bushes because of the birds. Thousands of blueberries gone!

    Thanks Kendra for the lessons learned post.

  3. Plant marigolds around your garden… especially around tomato plants! They do a great job of repelling pests and make the garden even more colorful and beautiful!

    Also, during the spring and summer, plant Cosmos and zinnias. These annual flowers are beautiful, start so easily from seed and attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds like crazy! The Cosmos get really tall so you can plant them around your veggie garden and by the time they get good and big (they take a while to get big and bloom… kinda like sunflowers) then they provide some very light shade at a time that’s hot and the veggie plants can use it. The zinnias come in many different varieties. Here in Louisiana I’ve been successful with every variety I’ve tried but that could be different elsewhere. These two flowers, I find, are the best bang for your buck and do a great job of attracting those workers to the garden!

    I’ve had an interest in gardening all my life (even as a small child). Both sets of grandparents are avid gardeners and they both tell me that no matter how long you’ve been doing it… you are always going to be learning. It’s trial and error. You can get lots of tips from people, read lots of books, etc. but each and every area of soil is different… position of your land is different, etc. Don’t be afriad to experiment and don’t be afraid to fail sometimes.

    Again, thanks for sharing with us!

  4. My biggest advice is to look at gardening like a journey. Unfortunately it is such a long journey that you may never reach the destination. Be patient with yourself. Involve your kids. They may do some damage but the learning they get from it is priceless. Play around, try new things but most of all enjoy it! Keep a journal of what worked and what to change. Start right now getting your beds ready for spring. Till in manure from the goats (tomatoes grew there for a reason) and chickens. This will also help with pest control and weed control next year. My dad comes over with the disc on his tractor and turns my soil after turnip greens are all picked. I then begin planning my garden for next year. I map it out what needs to be done when and where. I have a weekly to do list. I post it…everybody knows what needs to be done. ( I have older kids who help out alot) Every year I learn something new. This year I produced almost all the veggies we will use for the whole year but it didn’t happen all in one year. I have been gardening for my family for about 6 years. Some years I put more money and time than I got in return but don’t give up. You will eventually reap the rewards. How about fruit trees? This is a good time to put in an order to arrive in spring. Try pears… they are easy to grow fairly pest resistant and great canned. I can’t make enough canned pears to last the year. Apples are next but a little harder to keep disease and pests away.

  5. Thanks for sharing as I didn’t know some of these things. I’m coming into my second summer here & unfortunately my garden last year looked a lot like yours. Now I’m diligently fertilizing fortnightly & watering every couple of days. So far it’s looking better – although it’s only early days yet.

  6. Keep notes.
    Pay attention to companion planting. I.e. pole beans and garlic = smaller garlic and an awful bean yield.
    Have fun with it. Whether you’re goofy like me and go for the “fun” colored things like purple beans or purple carrots or yellow carrots or whatnot, experiment. Some things flop, some things thrive – you jus t never know.

  7. My list is similar to yours. I know I definitely need more pest control. I tried to do it too organic and that did not work out well. I also learned since I have sandy soil that I need to water it everyday.


Leave a Comment